Despite Bans, Disabled Women Are Still Being Sterilized in Europe

Decisions like these, involving people who almost certainly cannot give express consent, hang over the sterilization debate. Katrin Langensiepen, a German politician and one of the few visibly disabled members of the European Parliament, is pushing for a strict Europewide ban on nonconsensual sterilization. Many of history’s notorious eugenics practices, she said, were justified as being in a disabled person’s best interest.

But she acknowledged that some parents saw things differently. “They have the deep, strong belief: I need to protect my children,” she said.

At 20, Ms. Hreidarsdottir’s daughter has soft eyes and a knack for puzzles. She loves audiobooks. In March, her mother explained that she would go to sleep and have an operation to feel better.

“I don’t think she understood,” Ms. Hreidarsdottir said. “But we always try to explain things.”

Even after her surgery, Ms. Smith kept dreaming of romance. She considered trying dating apps, but in every potential profile picture of herself, all she saw was someone with Down syndrome.

Every summer, she attended a camp for adults with disabilities. During those Icelandic nights, under vast skies that never went dark, she hiked, sang karaoke and mingled outside her mother’s gaze. “I felt free,” she said.

There, during the summer of 2020, she met Sigurdur Haukur Vilhjalmsson, who also has Down syndrome. They both liked pop songs and soccer. He was charming and had a silly streak, a contrast to her more serious personality. He made her laugh.

At age 38, she had found love.